Time to cook the turkey

November 19, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

My traditionalist mother suspected insanity when I turned the turkey upside-down to roast uncovered last Thanksgiving. She was convinced I was crazy when she saw me struggling to flip the bird breast-side-up for its last 30 minutes in the oven.

Mom may have thought the method was madness, but she liked the juicy result.

Thanksgiving is a time that can satisfy the experimental side of any cook's personality.

"There's a million different ways to cook a turkey," says Chef Beverly Bonebrake, instructor in the culinary arts department at Washington County Technical High School. She prefers to soak her turkey in brine before roasting it.

Helene Spranklin of Boonsboro lifts the turkey's skin to rub the meat with butter and pepper - never salt, which dries it out, stuffs the turkey's body cavity with either stuffing or a combination of bay leaves, seasoned salt, parsley, celery and onion, and cooks her bird breast-side-down over chicken broth infused with mirapois - finely chopped celery, carrot and onion, sauted in butter.


"It makes a lovely gravy," she says.

Spranklin cooks the turkey uncovered at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, before covering the bird with foil and reducing the heat to 325 degrees. She doesn't flip the bird for its breast to brown until about the last half-hour of cooking. Spranklin doesn't have to baste her turkey too often because the breast-side-down method keeps the easily-dried white meat moist, she says.

Deep-frying turkey is a concept that started in the South - so it's no surprise that Southern son Austin Prejean, who now lives with his wife, Herald-Mail columnist Lisa Prejean, and their family in Clear Spring, has adopted that turkey cooking method. And he puts some fire in his bird - literally. Prejean uses a marinade syringe to inject the turkey in its breast and legs with Cajun hot sauce before submerging the bird in a vat of hot oil for about 45 minutes.

"As a native of Louisiana, I prefer this method because it gives the meat a spicy flavor and moist texture," Prejean says.

Florida Keys chefs might place oranges or lemons and limes in the bird's body cavity, and Southwest chefs sometimes rub the turkey with a hot chili paste, according to the National Turkey Federation at and on the Web. The organization, based in Washington, D.C., provides more traditional guidelines for roasting turkey:

  • Thaw the turkey and remove neck and giblets from the neck and body cavities.

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees for a conventional oven or 300 degrees for a convection oven.

  • Place turkey with the breast side facing up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

  • If cooking stuffing inside the turkey, fill the body cavity with stuffing just before putting the turkey in the oven. Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

  • Insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone.

  • For added moisture, pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the pan and brush the turkey with oil or butter and seasonings.

  • Place an aluminum foil tent over the breast during the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours of cooking, then remove the foil to allow for browning.

  • Roast the turkey until the meat thermometer registers 180 degrees. Use the roasting timetable to estimate approximate cooking time.

  • If stuffed, make sure the temperature of the stuffing has reached 160 to 165 degrees before removing the turkey from the oven.

  • For easier carving, allow the turkey to stand 20 minutes once removed from the oven.

Chef Bonebrake disagrees with the 180-degree finish mark. She says roasting the turkey to 180 degrees - necessary to get body cavity stuffing hot enough to kill harmful bacteria - will "turn the white meat into croutons." Bonebrake instead cooks her birds to between 161 and 165 degrees. And she never stuffs her turkeys.

"It's an easy way to make people sick," she says.

The turkey juices that soak into the stuffing keep it too moist to reach temperatures hot enough to kill salmonella bacteria without overcooking the white meat, Bonebrake says.

The National Turkey Federation's Web site includes guidelines for cooking turkey in a variety of ways - including deep-frying and grilling - turkey recipes and other turkey-related resources.

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